Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the upper limit of the iPad’s price point. This version has been corrected.
SAN FRANCISCO —Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Apple just made a fairly major announcement. A couple of announcements, actually. At an event in San Francisco, the company introduced new versions of two of its most important products: the iPad and the Apple TV.
The iPad has now become just the “new” iPad — gone is the numbering from the previous version. The Apple TV remains the Apple TV, however. Both products look basically identical to their predecessors. But at least in the case of the iPad, there are some pretty significant differences.
For starters, the new iPad boasts an absurdly high-resolution screen. The device has a 9.7-inch “Retina Display,” which in iPad terms means 2048 by 1536. Your HDTV has only a 1920-by-1080 resolution. That’s right — it’s got more pixels than your “HD” home theater setup.
As a result, the screen on the device is absolutely stunning. The retooled Apple-developed applications and icons really do pop on this thing. When you are looking at Web pages or books, text looks smooth and clean — it’s almost a bit surreal how clear it is. Think of a glowing piece of paper, and you’re getting there. Games look great, too, though most titles haven’t been updated for the new resolution yet. When I originally saw the iPhone 4 in 2010, I was blown away by its Retina Display, and the new iPad screen had the same effect on me. Basically, there’s no other product like it on the market.
What’s most impressive is that the hardware driving the display doesn’t hesitate at all. I didn’t see any lag or weirdness when zipping around in apps, and new gaming titles like Epic Games’ Infinity Blade: Dungeons looked nearly as good as on a home console.
That’s mostly because of the new A5X system-on-a-chip that Apple has installed in the new iPad, which boasts a quad-core graphics unit to handle some of that complex number crunching. Apple was mum on whether the RAM inside the new iPad had been upgraded, but I’ve heard from sources that there’s been a bump. That should come in handy for developers creating more taxing apps for the tablet.
As I said, the new iPad is physically similar to the last model, though it carries a slight bit more weight (an almost imperceptible 0.11 pounds) and is a tiny bit thicker (0.37 inches compared with the older version’s 0.34-inch profile). You probably won’t notice it in your hands, and luckily, if you’re upgrading from the previous model, your old accessories will work just fine.
Apple is also bringing deeper, more desktop-like application functionality to the iPad as well, touting complex apps like the new iPhoto for image editing and updates to GarageBand, a music production program. Playing with iPhoto and the new GarageBand was interesting. It feels as if Apple wants to bring high-end features to the iPad. When I spoke with Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, he wouldn’t say whether pro apps like Aperture would make their way to the platform, but he did have a slight grin that made me think the company was at least exploring the options.
The new iPad will be the first Apple product to utilize 4G LTE, much like a handful of new Android phones and tablets. You’ll be able to buy a version for Verizon’s LTE network or AT&T’s. (Of course they’re not compatible, even though they use the same technology.) Overseas, buyers can grab a more typical 3G version of the tablet, though those will work on LTE if you bring them to the United States and get a plan with one of the U.S. carriers. Luckily, since the iPad requires no contract, you can easily turn the service on and off at will.
I did mention there was an Apple TV announcement, but the most notable things about the small black box is that it’s now possible to watch full HD, 1080p video with it, and it’s had its user interface updated to look and act a little more like the other products running iOS.
One other thing: Apple is keeping the iPad 2 around and knocking down the starting price to $399, which should get even more people on the iPad bandwagon.
Both the new iPad and Apple TV will be available on March 16, though you can pre-order them now. A 16GB iPad will run you $499, with prices heading up to $829 if you want a full 64GB of storage and 4G data. The new Apple TV will remain at its $99 price point.
The event Wednesday left a lot of people wondering if Apple had hit a home run or not. Since the new iPad kind of walks and talks like the previous model, it could be hard to see what all the fuss is about.
It’s clear to me, however, that the company just took what is far and away the best tablet on the market and made it even better.
And in case you didn’t know, making a sequel that tops the original is no small feat.